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How to Make Money and Alienate Readers July 7, 2009

Posted by Sandy in Musings.
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There is an ongoing discussion in the book world about e-books: their effect on reading, how to price and sell them, their effect on printed books and traditional bookstores, etc. I’m still not sure what the eventual impact of e-books will be on myself and, specifically, my job, but I don’t have anything against e-books in principle. Personally, I don’t enjoy reading large amounts of text on a screen, and I’m your typical book geek, in that I love the feel and smell of books. I like the fact that I will never need to upgrade my favorite paperback copy of Jane Eyre*, that I can loan and borrow books at will, and that I don’t worry about damaging a book if it falls in a puddle or gets sand (or bits of sandwich) in its binding.

However, I know that there are people who want the ability to carry a library with them in a small, convenient gadget, and that’s great. If someone gave me an e-reader, I’d probably use it, especially since publishers are starting to offer advance copies of books for download. I have no problem with the idea of making books available in a new format (as long as I can still buy my own — physical, paper and ink — copy for my bookshelf). That is, I didn’t have any problem with the idea until I read this item in Shelf Awareness this morning:

Amazon.com is applying for several patents on ads in e-books, according to Slashdot, which has links to the Patent & Trademark Office (oldfashioned) paperwork. One example: “For instance, if a restaurant is described on page 12, [then the advertising page], either on page 11 or page 13, may include advertisements about restaurants, wine, food, etc., which are related to restaurants and dining.”

This just gives me the willies. Imagine reading your digital copy of Gone With the Wind, coming to a section about Scarlett donning her corset, and being greeted by a bright pink VICTORIA’S SECRET SEMI-ANNUAL SALE! BRAS, PANTIES, SWIMSUITS AND MORE, UP TO 70% OFF ORIGINAL PRICES!

Granted, this is not yet a reality, but I can’t believe that advertisers won’t be jumping all over this. My guess is that advertising might be promoted as a way of subsidizing book production in order to offer lower costs to readers (that, or higher profits to publishers). But is this really a good way to promote the use of e-books? To me, it’s a complete deal-breaker. There’s no way I’m going to shell out a couple hundred (or even under one hundred) bucks for the privilege of reading a book full of flashy digital advertising. I’ll be interested to hear what others have to say about the matter, and to see if the idea takes off or fizzles in the early stages.


*Okay, unless it falls apart. Even then, there’s nothing keeping me from patching it back together with some tape. Can you say that for your busted iPod? I didn’t think so.

[Edited to add:] You might enjoy this amusing take on e-book advertising from Kenny Brechner at Devaney Doake & Garrett Booksellers.

[Update] Here’s a diagram showing the actual ad layout suggested by Amazon’s patent. Maybe Kenny ought to patent his idea before the big guys steal it.

And, GalleyCat readers pointed out (way back in January) that this is not such a new idea, after all. (I’m very glad that it didn’t catch on the first time and hope that it will meet the same end in digital format.)

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